Balance in All D&D Things: Rules & Atmosphere

alt textSo I’m on Facebook yesterday talking with a friend about how we all rocked last night’s D&D session like, well, rock stars in our now-paragon Nentir Vale campaign.  We start talking about other cool characters we’d like to play in case, Raven Queen forbid (and bring us back as revenants even!  Love revenants!), we bite it. 

We get to talking about controllers in the game, and we both simultaneously mention playing an Invoker would be really cool.  We enjoy the RP aspect of the game, and like Dungeon’s Master tells us in Divine Intervention, divine characters always seem a natural fit for great roleplaying right out of the gate for anyone.  My friend then mentions how the martial power source is the only one missing a controller right now.

Fast forward to about an hour later.  I’m surfing through a few of my many favorite D&D blogs on my blogroll like Dungeon’s Master, Sarah Darkmagic, and of course, Robert J. Schwalb’s blog. 

And wouldn’t you know it, Rob’s new Batteries Not Included blog mentions that elusive martial controller my friend and I were just talking about.
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Rob’s an accomplished freelance game designer, including some beauties for D&D 4e like Monster Manual 3 and Player’s Handbook 2 – and literally hundreds more both in and out of D&D.  In short, I like his style – like Dungeon’s Master and Sarah Darkmagic, these three sites really speak to the part of D&D that I value most: achieving a find balance of both crunch and flavor, mechanics and storytelling.  In particular, I’ve really liked some of the thought-provoking takes Rob has had he has on 4e encounter design and concerns on his blog. 

Rob’s Batteries Not Included blog is a tremendous read.  It reminded me with utter clarity what I love most about D&D: that critical balance of crunch and flavor.  Mechanics and storytelling.  Rules and roleplaying.  Structure and creativity.  Left brain, right brain.  A delicate, wonderful balance that you find in the best games in the world. 

D&D inspires and excites our imagination because at its heart, it’s that rare type of game, a roleplaying game – and thus, by definition, it encourages and celebrates the unique balance of structure and creativity that it simply is. 

And so, I left this comment on Rob’s blog:

“There’s a been a fundamental shift going on lately with D&D from the flavor and crunch balance perspective.  Proof?  Monster Vault.  MM3.  Same thing with this article and that linked thread by Goken just above about perspective on the classic D&D question: “What are you gonna play?”  

I both DM and play D&D, and in the brand new Shadowfell campaign I play in, when putting the party together, I actually stopped using the role terminology when discussing our party make-up with everyone.  Instead, I just asked, “What class are you thinking of playing?  I was thinking Avenger, because I’ve never played one and I love their flavor and style.” 

A year ago in my D&D campaigns, I’d definitely be emphasizing the hard mechanical role words more.  But that’s a bit too gamey, isn’t it?  This is D&D, and D&D has always been and always will be a fine blend of crunch and flavor, mechanics and storytelling.  Maybe we swung too far mechanically in our ’4e-speak’ early on [learning a brand new system for the first time], and we’re now getting back to the sweet spot as the game and products mature?”

How important do you think this fine balance of structure or mechanics and creativity and storytelling is to your enjoyment of D&D?  How well do you think D&D 4e achieves this balance?  Do you agree or disagree that perhaps the balance wasn’t quite right early on in 4e, but might now be finding its sweet spot?

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